Rough Race for Ducote in Baltimore, Sweet victory again for Marcelli
On September 3, 2011, professional race car driver and entrepreneur, Chapman Ducote, joined his brother, David Ducote, for the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, the seventh race in the 2011 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) season. For this sprint through the city streets of Baltimore, Maryland, the Ducote brothers teamed up once again with Intersport Racing in the #89 LMPC machine.
I look forward to a second shot at the track next year.
The day before the qualifying session, race officials opened the circuit for a "track-walk", so that the drivers could get a first glimpse of the new track they would soon be speeding around at over 160 mph. As the drivers walked through the city streets elbow-to-elbow with concrete trucks that were still pouring the chicane, and with construction workers still feverishly welding down man-hole covers, not only did some driver express their disapproval of the quality of the new track, some were down-right apprehensive. In fact, a few drivers even concluded that the track was un-driveable, with undulations in the road exceeding the minimum clearance required by their front diffusers. And, it turned out their reservations held merit, as construction crews continued to adjust and refine the course until just hours before the drivers manned their cockpits for the qualifying session.
Amid the controversy of the un-tested track and undaunted by its challenges, Chapman Ducote took the wheel for the qualifying session. On Chapman's "golden lap" of the session, which is driver-lingo for the first lap the car and its tires are warm enough to turn its fastest lap, Ryan Lewis, in the #52 LMPC car, mis-judged his position on track and failed to break for the chicane, smashing full-throttle into the back of the #89 car and sending it spinning into the wall. Due to serious damage to both the front diffuser and rear wing, the Ducote car was unable to finish the qualifying session, and thus should have been relegated to last place on the starting grid. However, since Lewis's mistake was so egregious, ALMS officials relegated him to last in line for the start of the race. This slap-on-the-wrist penalty, however, did little to pacify the Intersport Racing mechanics, who were forced to work through the night to get the #89 car back together and ready for the race.
"With a new track to master, it seemed like the fundamentals went right out the window for some drivers," Ducote laughed, then added, "which is a nice way of saying Lewis was a complete bonehead."
As race day dawned, the teams were overwhelmed by the turnout. Over 160,000 ALMS fans streamed into downtown Baltimore, making this sold-out event the most highly attended race of the 2011 ALMS season thus far. Adrenaline was pumping and nerves were strung tight in the paddock, as drivers made their way to the starting grid for a sprint around a new track that had been completed mere hours before the green flag was to wave. To their surprise, the construction crews had turned the track in the last phase of preparation from an uneven, bumpy approximation of a road course into a true Grand Prix circuit.
Unfortunately for the Ducote brothers, race day proved as frustrating and unfair as qualifying. While mechanically the car held strong, the driving skills of their on-track competition once again turned sloppy. During David Ducote's stint another competitor crashed into their #89 LMC, through no fault of David's, and abruptly ended their day at the races. The day for Intersport Racing, however, was not over, as the team had entered two LMPC machines in the race to hedge its bets. After their knock-out, the Ducote brothers remained on track to cheer on their Intersport teammates, Kyle Marcelli and Tomy Drissi, in the #37 LMPC car, and the team rallied around their last remaining shot for a win. Fighting through lap traffic, Marcelli and Drissi managed to stay away from the numerous accidents on track and drove the #37 car to a sweet victory, proving the team had what it took to win. In the end, there was plenty to celebrate in the Intersport Racing tent after the Baltimore Grand Prix.
"Although, initially, I had my doubts about the condition of the track, the city of Baltimore and the [ALMS] Series really pulled it together and gave us a great stage for our Grand Prix," Ducote said. "Our car ran into some bad luck this year, but my brother and I both turned faster lap times in the actual race than in practice or qualifying, which is quite unusual and a great sign. I look forward to a second shot at the track next year."
Up next, Chapman Ducote heads to the legendary Silverstone Circuit in England on September 10, 2011, for the 6 Hours of Silverstone, the next in line of illustrious Intercontinental Le Mans Cup races. For this high energy endurance race, Ducote will pair up once again with his European team, JMB Racing, and his Intersport teammate and newly crowned victor of the Baltimore Grand Prix, Kyle Marcelli. Earlier this summer in their European debut, Ducote and Marcelli surprised the racing world with their stunning victory at the 6 Hours of Imola in Italy.
Stay tuned to see if this ever-quick duo can turn their European win into a streak.